[Ridgway Colorado, 2013] ALICE BILLINGS IS THE HORSE LADY. Meeting her, talking with her, you sense this immediately. It’s not the scruffy hat, or the manure-bottomed boots, or even the bits of hay in her hair. It’s the look in her eye when she talks about her beloved horses. Then you look at her art and there is no doubt, all that emotion and feeling, color and line, just leaps from the canvas and captures your heart. As it surely has captured hers. Her work is joyous, vibrant, alive. It’s interactive. Makes you want to throw out your arms and just plain, hug a horse!
“I’ve loved horses all my life,” Alice says, “but I never had the opportunity to own one until I moved out here.” Now that the opportunity has arrived, she’s the owner of seven—Thunder, Scout, Dakota, Gus, Oreo, Ryah and Pockets— “of which three are rescues,” she says. “My great family.” All are subject matter for her colorful, evocative paintings, many of them reminiscent of the Paris “salon” era popular with Picasso and Kandinsky.
Alice grew up in Queens, the daughter of a Bohemian artist and cartoonist who was also an art teacher. She made her first drawings and paintings working alongside him in his studio. “I was four years old,” she says. “It was from my father that I learned the importance of drawing and of understanding color.” She mastered them both. Just look at one of her paintings. To abstract a subject, you must first understand the reality of it, be able to portray it with a nearly photographic eye before you can believably distort it. “To be a good abstractionist, you have to be a good draftsman,” says Alice.
She followed in her father’s footsteps studying art (and music—Alice has a degree in both). “He was a true Gemini,” she says of her dad, conservative in some things, way out there in others.” She also emulated her mother, a school secretary, (and her principal’s right hand); for 32 years Alice served as the assistant of actor Dennis Weaver. Who made westerns and rode horses. Another equine connection. Her newest project is ELLA (stands for Equine Life Lessons and Artwork. “I teach riding to young people and incorporate drawing the horses,” she explans. “Sometimes they don’t ride….just ‘be with the horses.’ If they do ride, they learn to catch their horse, brush it and prepare it for riding…..no “Beverly Hills” bring my horse up to me, please. They do it all…and in the process learn about themselves and life.”
Through it all though, teaching school, making music (Alice can play just about any kind of stringed instrument), doing photography (which she was doing when she met Dennis), then working for him so many years, Alice love affair with horses never diminished. And as time permitted, she painted. The horse remained her favorite artistic subject, although over time, her work, at first representational, became more abstract and at the same time, more emotionally connected to her subjects. “Although I think I’m coming around full circle,” she notes. “My work seems to be getting more representational.”
Maybe. Maybe not. The jury’s still out on that one looking at her current work. Alice has whimsey down pat, and she possesses a unique sense of color. When this woman paints a horse, it’s not just a presentation of paint on canvas. What appears is a window to the animals personality and emotions. And to how Alice relates to it. That relationship is absolutely present in the colors she chooses and uses. You look at that horse’s face and you know what it is feeling. You are right there, communing with it, not just looking at a static picture. One horse might be sad and blue, another happy as springtime and just as brightly colored.
“My strong suit is line,” Alice says. “Line and color, but not in the traditional sense.” Absolutely. Take a look at this show and there’s no doubt of it. Nor is there any doubt of her ability to get right into the horse’s head, and perform her own magic show and tell act. She does make you want to hug a horse!
Asked where she will go with her art next, Alice states: “The horses will tell me.” It will be interesting to watch her journey, see where her beloved horses lead her.
©Kathryn R. Burke for SJPG
©Kathryn R. Burke for SJPG
Courtesy Alice Billings